Veggie Garden Day 3

Garden Tribe’s “Boot Camp”–mini course on veggie gardening  continues. So I’m continuing with my annotations. You can benefit from my signally pitiful failures. They say the key to success is learning from our failures, so I should be really successful. Oh, unless of course I didn’t actually learn…

Never mind, on with Day 3–Where to Plant.

My motivation as a designer is always to give people the tools to be proud of their labours. That inspires us to do more of the same. So what will it take to be proud of our vegetable garden? Making it as easy as possible, so you’re keen to get started, keep at it, see progress, get quick results, and finally, succeed!

This is not an example of quick results (nor "success" as one would usually define it). I sowed asparagus seeds indoors spring 213; few of them survived the transplant, so I direct sowed some more. Two years later this is my asparagus bed.

This is not an example of quick results (nor “success” as one would usually define it). I sowed asparagus seeds indoors spring 2013; few of them survived the transplant, so I direct sowed some more. Two years later this is my asparagus bed.

1. How much space do you think you’ll need? If you haven’t done a lot of gardening before, don’t bite off more than you can chew (someone please give me a non-food metaphor!). Did you identify 25 vegetables you know you’ll eat? Short list 5 of them. The you can devote yourself to those five and really give them the best of your energies.

2. Now, what will the actual garden beds look like? If you want to plant up a bed that’s 10′ x 10′, you’ll have to build paths through it, thus losing planting space anyway. Better for the home garden to have beds that are no wider than you can reach. For me that’s 3′. I can reach 18″, and I have access on two sides, therefore a 3′ wide bed. If I plant veggies along the edge of a perennial or shrub border (I’m sure Garden Tribe will address that in future days), then I won’t go deeper into the bed than 18″–as far as I can comfortably reach.DSCN1193

3. Light. Usually you can expect to find vegetable gardens located in full sun. Here in coastal BC, even full sun isn’t strong sun, so you seldom have to worry about leaves burning by scorching rays. But the “at least 6 hours of direct sun” rule was meant to be broken. If you get direct sun for the middle 4 hours of the day (say 11 am to 3 pm, that will be as much real light (lumens?) as 6 hours 7 am to 1 pm. So for fruits and roots, definitely give them the most direct sunlight you can, but if there’s competition for the very few  square feet of the only really sunny spot you’ve got, try out less sunny spots for some of them and odds are you will still get some harvest. Potatoes for example are meant to like full sun, but I’ve recently read they’ll tolerate less than the best and still give you potatoes. Tomatoes on the other hand I wouldn’t mess with. They have a hard enough time ripening in our climate as it is without challenging them even further.

Don’t rule out your front yard for growing edibles. Many are really attractive at their best–like rhubarb, blueberries, many cabbages, swiss chard.

4. Access–to water and to the kitchen. I hate going out to pick kale leaves in the pouring rain, but if at least I don’t have to tramp through a lot of wet grass to get there, I’m more likely to actually do it. So anything that I expect to be harvesting during bad weather will be located closer to the back door. Or front door. You’ll also want to make sure water is close at hand (will Boot Camp be discussing drip irrigation I wonder?).

Stay tuned for Day 4…

6 Tips for Container Gardens

My garden is my test ground. Most of what I know I learned by screwing up at least once.

So here’s some tips I’ve learned through trial and error.

1. PLAN!

Typically I’ve combined plants that I have rather than plants that I’ve designed to go together.Image

I was given the little Buxus (boxwood), so I stuck it in the green planter, then some time later I acquired the hellebore, (Lenten rose) and added it to the pot. Do they go together? No. Could I make them go together by adding more stuff. Probably not. The only way (IMO) they will look good together is to let the boxwood grow bigger (pruning it a bit in the spring and fall so that it will bush out and up) and wait for the hellebore to multiply. And since I’m not in any hurry, and after all, my garden is my test ground anyway, I’ll do just that. In fact, it was my PLAN! (not…)

2. Where do you expect your container to live? Full sun or full shade or a combination? We usually think we’ll need lots of sun to get the colourful container garden we want, but in fact there are LOTS of colourful shade loving plants. My favourite would be coleus, with it’s stunningly coloured foliage and completely insignificant flowers. Image

If you don’t have full sun, how many hours of sun do you get? Or if no direct sun, how deep is your shade? Only morning sun, or shade from trees that are high overhead, might be called light shade, or dappled or bright shade. But shade that is on the north side of a tall building with another building close by would be dense shade.

3. Is it going into a small space or a big space? Small spaces don’t necessarily need small containers, in fact sometimes just the opposite. A small balcony can be visually enlarged by filling one end with a large extravagant container garden.

4. How big an object do you want? Do you want one big pot or a bunch of coordinating small pots? The larger the container, the better it tolerates hot dry days, and the more nutrition it holds. But more smaller pots may give you more “terracing” effect—ie, lots of levels. ImageThis is a small pot that just barely fits on a front step: a bunch of different sedums, some creeping thyme for summer flowers, and mini-daffodils that are just beginning to bud out.

5. Special considerations for hanging baskets:

  • Bigger is better. Have you noticed the size of Victoria’s hanging baskets, or New West’s? They’re enormous. And therefore are able to hold onto more water. The most important thing about hanging baskets is water, because they’re completely open to evaporation. Many garden centres recommend moisture crystals, but my favourite  expert on everything horticultural, Linda Chalker-Scott from Washington State U says they’re pointless (or worse).


  • This on the other hand is a small hanging basket: of course, it’s my own. Remember, test ground…Image
  • Buy potting mixture for hanging baskets. In fact, always buy potting mixture for containers rather than something that’s called topsoil, or compost, or anything that is “soil based”. Real soil is way too heavy for containers of any kind, and containers don’t have the advantages of the ground (full of microbes and worms to do all the real work of growing plants).

6. One of my favourite links for growing things in our location: Great Plant Picks for maritime northwest garden.

Do you need help figuring out your container garden(s)? Just ask. You won’t be my test garden. Or leave a comment.